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  • Writer's pictureAsha

Crinan Canal - a water staircase

I have been sitting on a growing number of blog drafts since October 2021. That's a long time. Recently I watched a reel on Instagram, where someone said that if you have started doing something that's a progress from when you were doing nothing and procrastinating, which gave me a bitter fruit for thought, because it looked like I was back to the procrastination period with my writing. That wasn't a great feeling but a very good motivational speach. Now I have over 20 blog drafts and still unsure where this is going, so I am dragging my feet to reactivate the written reports of Adventure Now. However, I feel sort of sad to part with this form of creativity so decided I will give it my best and pick it up again.

Timeline: 9th of October entered Crinan Basin (Lock 15). 10th of October started sailing down Crinan Canal. Night at a pontoon between lock 10 and 11 - Dunardry. 11th of October - night at Cairnbaan. 12th & 13th of October - 2 night before lock 2. 14th of October - leaving Crinan Canal.

We entered Crinan Basin on the 9th of October. Magic! Last year I was looking at the boats moored in this beautiful place and I was jealous! I wanted Altor to be moored in this cool spot too. At last, I got my wish. I sat in the cockpit of Altor, looking out on a beautiful motor-cruiser called Juliette Kilo, Crinan Hotel, and the coffee shop in a white-washed building, all reflecting on the surface the Crinan Basin.

Altor moored in the Crinan Basin. What a treat!

On the first night Mark finished Episode 13 of Adventure Now and we needed to upload the video. This very special place is an ideal spot for a digital detox as there is no mobile phone coverage. The wi-fi broadcasted from the coffee shop and the hotel does not offer the speed necessary to upload a video. We walked in the complete darkness of the pitch black night, listening to the crunching noise of the stones underneath out shoes on the road along the canal, until our phones picked up 4G signal. The night was very warm and dry. We made ourselves comfortable on the side of the road and admired the sky full of stars while waiting for the upload to be completed.

The following day we started the journey up the canal and through the locks. Before we set off we prepared 10-meter mooring lines, which run from the cockpit winches to the cleats on the bow and the stern and back to the middle of the boat with bowling at each end. These ropes were to be passed up to whoever was manning each lock to secure the boat in the locks. I heard the instructions a few times but I still couldn't imagine how it was going to work and how did the locks worked.

So really, the locks work in two ways - on the way up the canal the boat goes in, gate closes behind with the use of man power, the water fills in and the boat goes up to the level of the next stretch of the canal. On the way down, the boat goes in, the gates are closed behind, the water is emptied to lower the boat to the level matching the next stretch of the canal. At first we had the easier option as we were going upstream. As the locks filled up with water and Altor was going up, we had to shorten the lines to hold her safely in position to one side of the lock. Luckily, we were going alone, as going alongside another boat into the locks would require more care to keep both boats safe.

While going downstream, the process would be reversed, which means we would have to empty the water from each lock after we entered to equalise with the pool ahead of us and lenghten the lins as the boat went down. After seeing it done once, I understood the method. So now I see it as taking the boat up and down a stair case, which is made of water. You make it to the first step, and to raise to the next step you need the water level to raise. To make that happen you need something like the lock's gate to ensure you can fill the water in without spilling it. That is how you can make it to the next step. Then open the gate, make it to the next lock, or step, close the gate, fill the water in until it equalises with the next pool, open the gate in front, one step up! The canal has reservoirs on the sides to ensure there is enough water supply to fill in the locks. If Scotland doesn't deliver enough rain, boats with longer keel might not be allowed in to avoid having them running aground, so before entering the canal the staff always asks about the draft of the boat.

There are also few more factors that add to the crossing. The locks are close together so the lines have to be adjusted back and forth fairly quickly. Thankfully we had assistance with this process from the Crinan Canal workers so it saved me scrambling in a hurry up and down slippery, wet ladders from the lock with the ropes to secure the boat.

Let's get back to the first lock and Crinan Basin. We were very lucky with the weather and had beautiful sunshine all the way to the next lock. That's when the clouds came in and delivered a lot of squalls on the short distance between lock number 14 and 10. After passing lock 11 and before 10 we moored on the pontoon beside the familiar boat which occupied the anchorage we marked outside Crinan Hotel! Although there was no power on the pontoon, this mooring came with nice onshore facilities with hot shower, always a treat!

For many years, some of the most prominent sights on the canal were the Clyde Puffers - little cargo vessels that were designed to fit the Forth & Clyde and Crinan Canals. They delivered coal to the West Coast, bringing back whisky and other produce. The following day we made it to Cairnbaan, where we spotted one of the two remaining puffers, called VIC32. A year before this boat was moored in Crinan Basin. The other one is called Auld Reekie, also based at the canal basin in Crinan. The canal itself no longer carries freight, although the harbour at Ardrishaig is important for Scotland's timber trade.

The area at Cairnbaan offers a peaceful walk though woodlands and up to hills with ancient carvings, so we wandered off to check out what's that all about. We mused on the origins of these artworks of the yesteryears and enjoyed the view of the Canal from the hill.

Next day we moved on to a pontoon near Lochgilphead where we spent two nights, had a wonder to the town and Mark fixed the drone. Yes, the very one he crashed into cliffs in Husavik, Iceland. Happy days! We were so chuffed with having the drone back in the air and recording the scenic views around Crinan Canal!

We left Crinan on the 14th of October bound for the Firth of Clyde.

Altor moored near Lochgilphead.

Enjoying a pint in the Crinan Hotel.

Cottage at the swing bridge on the way to lock number 13.

In one of the lock on Crinan Canal.

The story of "Britain's most beautiful shortcut" began in 1771 when James Watt surveyed the district to find a course for the canal, originally planned by John Rennie. Only 9 miles in length, the Crinan Canal was built to improve access to the Western Isles, offering a safe transit route from Ardrishaig on Loch Fyne to Crinan, avoiding the long, arduous journey around the Mull of Kintyre.

The Crinan Canal Act was passed in 1793, and Thomas Telford superintended the build. Funding for the canal came from London as well as Glasgow, but the money ran out in 1801. With the help of Government loans and additional funding the canal was finally finished in 1809.

In 1823, a section of the canal bank approximately three miles north of Ardrishaig failed, and the course of the canal was altered to avoid the marshy ground which had caused the problem. The old banks can still be seen between the canal and the main road to Oban.

Worse was to come in 1859, when a reservoir dam burst. Millions of gallons of water, along with hundreds of tons of rocks, boulders, peat and mud, were released, spreading in both directions along the canal and wrecking locks, pounds, public road and canal banks - though, miraculously, without any loss of life.

Given these misfortunes, it is no surprise that the Crinan Canal never became financially self-supporting. By 1854, the canal was carrying 33,000 passengers, 27,000 sheep and 2,000 cattle. By 1906 most of the revenue was obtained from goods traffic, but at £6,000 a year this hardly covered operating costs. Nonetheless, the canal continued as an important local amenity, and a vital supply line to the Highlands and Islands.

Between 1930 and 1932, new sea locks were built at either end, making the canal accessible at any state of tide. Lock 14 and the canal bank between Crinan and Bellanoch were extensively improved as recently as 1991. The canal is now used largely by yachts as well as fishing vessels.

Beautiful little artwork on a stone left beside Crinan Canal.

A swinging bridge beside Lochgilphead.

Lochgilphead is a town and former burgh in Argyll and Bute, Scotland, United Kingdom, with a population of around 2,300 people. The village lies at the end of Loch Gilp (a branch of Loch Fyne) and lies on the banks of the Crinan Canal. Lochgilphead sits on the A83, with Ardrishaig 2 miles (3 km) to the south and Inveraray 24 miles (39 km) to the north-east; Oban lies 37 miles (60 km) north on the A816.

Blackberries for jam :)

Altor moored beside the swinging bridge beside Lochgilphead.

Gate to a private property at the swinging bridge beside Lochgilphead.

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